The past few years have forced many organizations to adopt a hybrid work model. A result of this ‘new workplace normal’ has prompted a few questions: Is this model of running an organization viable and helpful in long-term cultural development? What are the pros and cons of a hybrid work model?
There have been anecdotal reports that roughly 71% of Canadians would support a hybrid work model (PDF) if they had to make a choice. However, based on a recent KPMG survey, four in five people asked are leary that the leadership model within their organization will even consider, let alone accommodate, their interests in a new workplace environment. Although the post-Covid remote workplace is new and exciting with some flexibility for employees, the question remains: Are organizations ready to meet the changes that could potentially affect their culture and productivity?
A culture shift is required to assimilate to the new normal, starting with managers planning appropriate responses to help facilitate employee growth. Will these changes truly help employees thrive and, if they are successful, how will changes be implemented for long-term success of the organization?
What Are Some Benefits of a Hybrid Work Model?
With forced office closures due to Covid regulations and organizational uncertainties related to keeping the lights on, workers had to be trusted to work outside of traditional business structures. The required ‘hybrid work model’ created a calculated opportunity for organizations to build employee engagement by offering them ‘choice’ as to where the work would be done. It forced the demonstration of ‘trust’ that work would be completed on time and to the quality standards necessary. And it required management to ‘understand’, ‘appreciate’ and ‘care’ about the personal situations of each employee within the context of their job.
Early indicators suggest the hybrid work model with its less rigid workplace environment positively impacted workplace engagement and employee mental health. Most employees who’ve been working from home have appreciated the greater flexibility with managing family time or running necessary errands during the day. They were enabled, while still getting their daily work completed, because of the significant time savings realized with not having to commute to the office. Things like a more casual dress code, and opportunities to occasionally work outside of normal business hours when necessary have been beneficial in building trust. Even the communication tools that have made remote work possible have had a positive impact on team efficiency and individual productivity.
It will be important to ensure employees required to return to the office don’t feel they have taken a step backwards in their work and life balance.
What Are Some Challenges of a Hybrid Work Model?
The traditional method for employee management is that all decisions come from the top down. Consequently, the idea of enabling employees to decide in a post-Covid era whether they’d like to work remotely, or determine their work schedule, may look and feel counterintuitive. It may also be a challenge for some managers to continue to trust employees to work effectively and track time as normal when there is no obvious or compelling business reason to do it. This is particularly an issue if their management competencies have not significantly evolved over the last couple of years.
Leadership needs to understand this shift in perceptions and expectations, and may need to plan accordingly with new office space concepts, recognize that management competencies have changed and shifted in relative importance within their role, and understand flexible office hours may now be more important than ever.
Logistics, Ergonomics, Virtual Communications and Psychology
For many jobs and industries during the height of the pandemic, working from home became the norm. Where applicable, employees were requested to keep themselves from the office and figure out how they could do their job effectively while working remotely.
As we move to understand the hybrid work model in the post-pandemic world, some important questions worth exploring now include: Is the employee comfortable enough at home? Do they have the necessary equipment, a dedicated space, a sense of quietness, and any personal issues hindering their daily work?
In the long run, if remote work is expected to remain efficient, organizations need to be attentive to space and equipment issues and solve them as quickly as possible. Logistical issues, like internet access or other technology requirements, can directly impact an employee’s ability to communicate virtually. In turn, their daily contact with their team could be compromised. Remote work should not mean a decrease in the transfer of information or a change in communication.
Some workers might have challenges with communication software and, subsequently, need to be trained to use these essential tools. This additional training will increase confidence and responsibility and, in the long term, prevent the loss of motivation and feelings of isolation.
And there needs to be recognition that too much of a good thing is never a good thing. This anecdote can be applied to those operating strictly remotely. Hyper-connectivity, chronic stress, overwork, and health issues linked to an increased sitting time are all issues that will have to be addressed by managers when setting up their hybrid plan. If employees are over-stressed and these unexpected needs aren’t taken into consideration, productivity will decrease and morale will be affected.
Zoom conferences, Facetime calls and telecommuting have become the norm due to the necessity of adjusting to Covid regulations. This type of constant online communication can become stressful, demotivating and require extra time management from employees, something they may not be used to or equipped to handle.
Although this type of communication may be the easiest from an organizational perspective, it should not be used as an excuse to neglect the workforce and expect all employees to thrive under this hybrid model. Employees should be given time for mental and psychological breaks, enjoy good communication with their colleagues, and be encouraged to take breaks to move around their homes or take short walks.
The appropriateness and extent of implementing a hybrid work model will be unique for every organization and each individual employed within it, but the effort will, without doubt, be worth the time invested.